When “Getting Triggered” Is a Good Thing

I talk a lot about authenticity, because I believe the world benefits from each person getting in touch with, and then fully expressing, who they really are. So many of us live our lives pretending to be normal, cool, or pulled together. We follow the rules, learn not to rock the boat, make other people feel comfortable, and do what’s expected. By wearing layers on top of layers of inauthenticity, we lose track of ourselves and lose touch with our own needs and desires.

“Being more authentic” isn’t just about expressing who you are, though. Expressing it is the easy part. Being more authentic is about discovering who you are, and challenging who you think you are. People think being inauthentic is like having a secret self that you’re dying to show everyone but keep hidden, but it’s so much deeper than that. Being inauthentic is more like that telephone game where you sit in a circle and whisper a word from person to person and by the time the word gets around the circle, the word is unrecognizable.

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If you want to feel more authentic- aka more free to be yourself- you’re going to need to discover who that self even is. That means challenging all the assumptions, beliefs, and labels that you’ve been carrying around, and exploring the identity you’ve created for yourself. Are your values really your values for example, or have they been handed down to you from your parents or someone else? Do you really enjoy those “normal adult things” you do, or are you just trying to meet peoples’ expectations?

The journey to authenticity is like going through your identity with a fine-toothed comb, and stopping over and over again to ask: is this really mine, or is this someone else’s?

This isn’t easy, I know. And it’s not fast, either. It’s a lifelong exploration, and it’s not for the feint of heart. But if you have the courage to challenge everything, you will be rewarded with a life in which you get to be wholly and completely you. No hiding, no faking, no pretending. Just you.

Sounds pretty good, right? So how do you start this glorious journey to authentic freedom?

Follow your resistance.

Your resistance is anything that makes you irrationally annoyed or mad or huffy, anything that triggers you to go on judgmental rants, or any chip on your shoulder. These are your way in. These trigger-spots and areas of resistance are figurative hotbeds of opportunity for growth and self-exploration.

Let me give you an example. I’ve always been kind of a tomboy, and my whole life I’ve been uncomfortable dressing up or looking girlie. Honestly as a kid, being called girlie was the worst possible insult I could imagine. In the last few years, I’m done a ton of work in this area, embracing my feminine side and allowing myself to step into my feminine energy more. A few years ago, I started doing this work thanks to discovering a huge chip on my shoulder that was becoming a bit of a problem; namely, the thought of wearing dresses made me fucking angry.

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I hated the whole idea of skirts and dresses. Why? Well for one, I resented the fact that society expects and rewards women for looking “feminine,” as though just because I have a vagina I should aspire to look like a friggin cupcake. Fashion’s double standard felt egregious to me; men get to wear clothes that are comfortable and practical, but women are supposed to wear things like high heels and spanx and clothes that make it impossible to breathe or cross our legs?! Just thinking about it made me livid.

My girlfriends would all say “But dresses make you feel so pretty!” while they twirled around and looked adorable.

“Not me,” I would snap. You can’t do spontaneous handstands in a dress. You can’t sit all scrunched up into a chair, or sprawled on the floor like I do. You can’t dance freely. Plus aren’t dresses supposed to be “sexy”? I don’t want to look sexy!

The whole thing honestly felt unfair. I felt ganged up on by the skirt-wearing masses, and personally affronted by any man who said he preferred a woman in a dress. I didn’t want to be a part of the stupid gender norm that says wearing this shit is more “feminine.” Not to mention the fact that women should not need to look more “feminine” in the first place! We are women. We are by definition feminine, WTF?!

I knew it shouldn’t have made me so mad. In pretty much every other regard I was a happy, tolerant person. But all it took was one person’s well-meaning suggestion that I would look great in a dress, and I damn near lost my mind with rage. Something was going on there.

Luckily, time and experience had taught me that heavy resistance and being triggered like that always signal a place where some work needs to be done. I decided that I wanted to work to remove this chip off my shoulder.

So I set out to heal some shit. I started talking about it. Reading about it. Asking about it.  What does femininity mean to me? What kind of dress can I wear that still feels free? Why do other women enjoy feeling this way?

 I decided to “practice” wearing dresses. Every single time I went out, I wore a skirt or dress. Not because I wanted to, or was in the mood to, but because I had committed myself to the practice. I bought some new stuff that didn’t feel restrictive. I bought a bunch of boy-short underwear to wear underneath, so that if I really felt the need to do handstands, I could. (My friends saw my undies a lot that year.) I tried on tons of skirts and dress in various styles, and with various degrees of success. 

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Honestly, I loved it. I felt like I had tamed a monster. I felt like a badass. I learned that floaty fabric can feel kinda nice, skirts can be just as casual (and non-sexy!) as shorts, and that people didn’t cross scary physical boundaries with me any more than if I was wearing jeans. (That belief- that skirts and dresses are an invitation to be sexually assaulted- was something big and dark that came up for me during this experiment.)

I felt brave, and powerful, and yeah… I even felt pretty. In consciously embracing my femininity, far more was healed than I had even realized needed healing.

My point here is that having a “chip on your shoulder” is a big red flag that theres some work to be done. We only have strong reactions when something is being triggered, and being triggered is always a sign that something needs healing, exploring, and/or experimenting.

If you’re working on showing up more authentically, embrace your resistance with gratitude and curiosity. Pay attention to what triggers you, and explore it bravely. Acknowledge and challenge the beliefs and fears you stumble across in the process. Use Specific and Vivid language to give exact words to the belief or fear, and then question it by asking “does this belief or fear belong to me, or did I borrow it from somewhere else?”  Slowly but surely, this kind of exploration will help you identify layers of yourself that aren’t really you and let them go, in service of being more authentically yourself.

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I still refuse to be held captive by gender norms, and I won’t subscribe to the idea that women look better when we’re more “feminine.” But by examining my anger, releasing my fear, and embracing the many different (and infinitely complex!) parts of myself, I was able to live with more authentic truth, more joy, and more uninhibited freedom.


 

I am passionate about helping women learn to love their bodies. That includes unlearning what a woman “should” be, feeling empowered and confident in yourself, embracing your authentic power, and creating a life so kick-ass and beautiful that you hardly have any time or energy left over to think about how your body looks. 😉

That’s why I created 

The Empowered Women Project

— for women like you, who are sick of being judged for what you look like, and want to focus instead on all the amazing things you can do and be. Click here to know more

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